The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team is on a roll, at least by recent standards.
The Mocs have won four straight games, are ranked in one of the major polls (24th) and attracted a crowd of 17,414 to last Saturday’s homecoming win over Georgia Southern.
“To see that crowd on Saturday was special,” athletic director Rick Hart said, “and signaled to me that the community is buying into what’s happening. They’re excited about it and believe in the direction of our program and the people that we have both on our team and on our coaching staff.”
Not since the 1997 season, when UTC started 6-1 and finished 7-4, have the Mocs been ranked or enjoyed a four-game win streak. With a win Saturday at No. 25 Furman (4-2, 2-1 Southern Conference), UTC (4-2, 3-1) will have its first five-game run in 30 years.
“It’s pretty mind-boggling,” Mocs coach Russ Huesman said of the droughts his team has recently ended.
It should be for Huesman and the guys he played with in the late 1970s and early ’80s, including UTC offensive line coach Russ Ehrenfeld. The program was a SoCon powerhouse in those days, sharing four league titles and finishing in the top three in the standings every season but one from 1977 to ’85.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/Chattanooga Times Free Press UTC head coach Russ Huesman follows the game agasint Georgia Southern at Finley Stadium.
“The biggest thing was that between 1977 and 1980, we only lost nine games,” Ehrenfeld said. “I think that when we walked out on the field, there was that expectation that we were going to win. ... Is it getting back to that? Yeah, I think our guys believe in what we’re doing.”
Bobby Lamb has been at Furman since 1982, when he arrived as a freshman quarterback. He was an assistant coach from 1986 to 2001 and took over as head coach in 2002.
Saturday’s game will be the 29th UTC-Furman game Lamb has been a part of, but few have had the stakes of this one. Both teams are still in the hunt for the SoCon title and a spot in the playoffs.
“It’s been a long time, I think probably 1984, when I was playing,” Lamb said.
UTC won that ’84 game 14-7 and went on to make the program’s only playoff appearance. The Paladins have gotten plenty of revenge, however, with 15 straight wins in the series.
The Mocs last won five in a row in 1980, Huesman’s junior season and Bill Oliver’s first as head coach after replacing Joe Morrison. It was the third time in four seasons that UTC had won at least five straight.
Ehrenfeld played guard from 1977 to ’80 and those teams never won fewer than seven games. Following a 6-5 season in 1985 (5-2 in the SoCon), the program’s decline began. Since the mid-’80s, UTC has won seven games in a season just twice and has won two or fewer SoCon games 13 times.
Counting Buddy Nix, who replaced Oliver in 1984, the Mocs went through five coaches before Huesman was hired in December 2008. None of them left with a winning record.
“I think that some of the [coaches] that were here in the past looked at this as a steppingstone and didn’t look at it maybe the same way that, for example, Coach Huesman does,” Ehrenfeld said. “They were more concerned about winning and getting out of here than they were about building this program, and because of that I think the program suffered. I really do.”
Seventeen games into the Huesman era, the suffering appears to have stopped. Huesman has a record of 10-7 and the program, which long lagged in popularity behind UTC’s men’s basketball team, is now the talk of the town.
“I think you’re starting to see a shift where people are as excited about football as they are basketball, maybe even more so football,” said former Mocs kicker Rodney Allen (1989-92), who is second all-time in career scoring with 215 points. “There’s a lot of excitement out there, and I think it’s going to continue.”
John Frierson is in his fifth year at the Times Free Press and fifth year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...